The unique art world of Steve Chmilar

Painter creates an international market for his artworks

  • Feb. 14, 2020 7:30 a.m.

– Story by Darcy Nybo Photographs by Don Denton

Steve Chmilar loved to draw as a child. By the age of six, he was already a perfectionist and his mother often had to remind him not to be so hard on himself. But despite his passion for art, his path veered to music when, after moving from Grande Prairie to Calgary as a young adult, he started a rock band called The Villains. The group released three full-length albums before disbanding in 2007, and Steve was soon inspired to return to his first love.

“I was in my 20s and didn’t have a lot of life experience to inspire my subject matter. I felt the biggest challenge was what to paint,” he said. “I found a Pieter Bruegel book at a used bookstore and finally had the impetus for a lifelong direction. I loved the inventiveness of his work and the way he depicted people and scenes from life. It was clear he was just as much a philosopher as a painter, observing the world around him objectively, without judgement.”

In 2007, Steve moved to an abandoned house in the middle of nowhere near Mabel Lake, BC. He stayed there for a year and started painting his first serious oil painting.

“It was a great place to be in my own thoughts, undistracted by outside influences,” he said.

After a year, Steve moved to Victoria.

“Nobody knew about me at that time. I was still only painting in private,” he said. “In 2009, I did the Moss Street Paint-In. I brought two finished paintings, two unfinished ones and a bunch of sketches. I didn’t know if anyone would care about my work, but they did. I received more responses from my art than I did from playing music, which is what I was doing at the time to make a living. My years as a musician gave me a better perspective on beginning another artistic career from scratch. I had the long game in mind and vowed to always keep the ball in my court with business decisions.”

A year after moving to Victoria, Steve met his partner, Ingrid Hansen.

“She inspired me,” Steve said. “She is artistically creative and an intelligent businessperson as well. When we met, she was doing the theatre scene at full blast. It was a busy time. She was in four productions at once and I was both painting and playing music.”

The couple decided to move to Toronto in 2012 and explore their options.

“We had a few Victoria friends who had recently moved there so it was an easy transition,” he said. “Once there, I painted constantly and learned a great deal about time management.”

His first show was the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibit, Canada’s largest juried art exhibition.

“I won Best In Show, which allowed me to continue painting full-time with prize money and some artwork sales.”

In 2014, Steve took part in The Artist Project, where he gained more exhibition experience and continued to build up his collector list.

“I had inadvertently fallen into the new art market where artists can represent themselves unlike ever before. There had been a stigma before that independent artists were not on the same level as gallery artists. I am excited to be part of the growing number of artists who are increasing the calibre of art sold outside the gallery system.”

In 2018, Steve and Ingrid moved back to Vancouver Island and found the perfect spot for two artistic people: a home right on the ocean in Sidney.

Being a full-time artist requires great talent and a good business sense, both of which Steve has. “One of my goals has been to have a red dot on everything. My work sells in part because I price it competitively. I’ve spent a great deal of time and many sleepless nights thinking about what to paint and how to sell it.”

Steve also brings his sense of fair play into the business of being an artist. “One day I had three people email me in an hour to buy one of my paintings. If I was one 100 per cent about profit, I would have reproduced it. Instead, I gave it to the first guy who emailed and continued on to new ideas.”

Steve’s oil paintings sell from between $2,500 for a miniature to five figures for the larger ones. His current work in progress is 44×55 inches and was preceded by a smaller 8×10-inch version of the same piece.

“A collector, who found out about me through an Australian gallery, came to my home studio and put down a deposit. An artist has to be as global as they can if it is their only source of income.” To date, Steve has sold his paintings to buyers across North America, Europe, China and Australia.

For those considering a career as an artist, Steve has some advice: “You can create whatever you want if it is for pleasure. If it is your living, be prepared to dedicate every waking moment to figuring out how to make what you want to do profitable. Appealing to a regional market is very different than appealing to an international market. Use social media and get your work in public to see how people react.”

While he doesn’t have any shows planned for Vancouver Island in 2020, he will be teaching at the McTavish Academy of Art in the spring. (mctavishacademy.ca)

See Steve’s paintings on his website at stevechmilar.com.

ArtartistEntertainment

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Free transit will be offered in Chilliwack on election day, October 24. (Chilliwack Progress file)
Free transit for Chilliwack voters on provincial election day

Free service will be offered all day on October 24 by the City of Chilliwack and BC Transit

Signs at a new COVID-19 testing and collection centre at 14577 66th Ave. in Surrey. It was relocated from an urgent primary care centre near Surrey Memorial Hospital. This new centre allows for up to 800 tests per day, which is 550 more than the previous centre, according to Fraser Health. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
More than 200 new COVID-19 cases linked to Fraser Health region: Dr. Henry

Provincial health officer appeals to people to keep gatherings small

Chilliwack Legion branch four president Sharon Churchill at the Vedder Cenetaph, which would normally be packed with 2000-plus people on Remembrance Day. But this year, Nov. 11 ceremonies here and at the downtown cenetaph will be significantly scaled back. (Eric J. Welsh/ Chilliwack Progress)
Chilliwack Remembrance Day ceremonies scaled back due to pandemic

There will be ceremonies at both cenetaphs, but with far less people attending than usual

Chilliwack-Kent 2020 provincial election candidates, clockwise from bottom left, Kelli Paddon (NDP), Eli Gagne (Libertarian), Jeff Hammersmark (Green), Jason Lum (Independent), and Laurie Throness, who began the campaign as a BC Liberal but left the party on Oct. 15. (Submitted)
OPINION: Every vote counts with election uncertainty in Chilliwack and Chilliwack-Kent

For the first time in a long time there could be very close races in both local ridings

Jodie Fedun said her brother Jarrett Whitford hasn’t been heard from since early September, and his bank card was last used in Hope. (Submitted/Facebook photo)
Police spot missing Alberta man on video, in Hope

Family have not heard from Jarrett Whitford, 31, since early September

Actor Ryan Reynolds surprised a Shuswap family with a special birthday message to their son who was worried he’d be alone on his 9th birthday on Nov. 24. (Tiffanie Trudell/Facebook)
Ryan Reynolds text almost gives away Shuswap boy’s birthday surprise

Deadpool actor helps remind eight-year-old Canoe resident he’s not alone

Vancouver police reactivated the search for Jordan Naterer Thursday Oct. 22. Photo courtesy of VPD.
Mom of missing Manning Park hiker believes her son is waiting to come home

‘He’s going to come out of a helicopter and say ‘what took you so long?”

Environment Minister George Heyman, Premier John Horgan and Energy Minister Michelle Mungall announce that B.C. Hydro is proceeding with construction of the Site C dam, Dec. 11, 2017. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
Site C actions, costs won’t be known until after B.C. election, Horgan says

Peace River diverted for construction of reinforced dam base

One of the squirrels who ended up having their tails amputated after getting them stuck together with tree sap. (Facebook/Wild ARC)
Squirrels recovering from tail amputation after sap situation near Victoria

BC SPCA Wild ARC says squirrels will be released back into wild, fifth sibling was euthanized

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read